Members of a competitive running group that includes Hinds Community College employees and alumni have been going the extra mile to make sure the disabled in their communities get to participate.
After learning of the story of Dick Hoyt and his disabled son Rick, a father and son running team in Holland, Mass, who has inspired millions of other runners, Hinds Community College biology instructor Chrisanna Saums researched ways to help disabled citizens in her community. A few months later in November 2013, the Mississippi chapter of Ainsley’s Angels was founded, with Saums as its president.
Ainsley’s Angels are athletic ride-along programs created for children, teens, adults and veterans with disabilities who normally would not be able to experience endurance events like road races and even triathlons. The volunteer-based service founded in Norfolk, Va., provides jogging chairs, bike trailers and rafts for anyone who is disabled, known as Captains, and runners, known as Angels, to push them in endurance events. Ainsley’s Angels is named after 11-year-old Ainsley Rossiter, who was diagnosed with a rare terminal illness, Infantile Neuroaxonal Dystrophy (INAD) at the age of four, which slowly causes global paralysis.
“We want to be able to provide any disabled child or adult an opportunity to compete in road races and endurance events with us – maybe even triathlons in the future,” Chrisanna Saums said.
Ainsley’s Angels member Terri Henderson reached out to a Facebook friend, Johnna Coward of Raymond, about the possibility of her 18-year-old daughter Mollie becoming a Captain. Mollie, who attends Raymond HS, was born with cerebral palsy and uses non-verbal cues to communicate.
Coward is the youngest of John Heiden’s five daughters; Heiden is former chair of the Hinds Community College Foundation and is currently an ex officio member.
Mollie has participated for several years in Hinds Community College’s annual Special Education Field Trip in May on the Raymond Campus. The annual event allows special education students in the Hinds County school district to participate in field-day type events such as a wheelchair race and enjoy snow cones, popcorn and other treats. The event organizer is also an Angel, Larina (Mason) Smith (1996).
One of Mollie’s favorite activities of the field day held at Joe Renfroe Stadium is always the wheelchair race. Her mother said she knew Mollie would love to be a part of Ainsley’s Angels.
“Mollie loves to move,” said Coward, whose first race with Mollie and the Angels was in January at the Chill in the Hills in Vicksburg. “She was so excited at the starting line of her first race; she was moving her arms like she was running. She really loved crossing the finish line.”
The local Angels chapter includes a number of Hinds alumni. Katie (Turnage) Murphy (1999), academic counselor at the Raymond Campus, Ginny (Askew) Odom (1995), Belinda (Fisher) Sollie (1988), Paige (Mellon) Hutchinson (2001) and Jenny (Robertshaw) Winstead (1999) have since run in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in New Orleans with Mollie and are always looking for interested runners to join them in future races.
The Angels feature event, the first annual Ainsley’s Angels Cannonball Run, is set for Saturday, May 3 in Raymond. For more information contact Saums at 601.201.8887 or by email at email@example.com.
“Running is my outlet and I felt God calling me to use what I love to help other people and I want others to experience what I experience,” Saums said. “We have plans to include dozens of Captains this year.”
As a non-profit organization, Ainsley’s Angels of Mississippi accepts donations to help purchase more jogging chairs, which retail for $1,000. They have two chairs now, but seek more corporate support. Logos could be printed on the chairs as well.